How Does Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD) Provide Relief From Edema?

It may be difficult for people not trained in MLD to understand how doing something to the surface of the body can create changes within the body to promote healthy, normal movement of lymph.

However, through understanding how lymph naturally moves through the system and understanding what the lymphedema therapist is doing it is very easy to see why this is such an effective therapeutic treatment option.

The use of MLD or manual lymph drainage is not new. It was originally developed as a treatment during the 1930s by a husband and wife team of Danish doctors, Emil and Estrid Vodder. They pioneered four different strokes or movements that are used by the lymphedema therapists to stimulate the movement of lymph through the vessels.

The Phases

The key or the central factor to stimulating the lymph system, which is located just beneath the skin surface over most parts of the body, is using repetitive motions that include a working phase and a resting phase.

The working phase is triggered by the specific movement of the lymphedema therapist’s hands. This is a light, gentle touch that slightly stretches the lymph vessels, simulating the activation of the system. With the movement of the hand, which is always in the desired direction of movement, there is a gentle push or pressure to further enhance the movement.

The resting phase allows the lymph system to react, draining the lymph vessels and allowing for a reduction in the swelling that can be noticed immediately.

The Strokes

The four strokes of the manual lymph drainage technique include the rotary, the scoop, the pump, and the stationary circle. Each is used with a particularly part of the body and different strokes are more appropriate for deeper lymphatic vessels while some are more suited to those closer to the surface of the body.

With most of the strokes the palm, as well as the fingers, are used to create the motion. Keep in mind this is a very light pressure and should not actually massage the muscles but rather just impact the lymph vessels that are located between the outer layer of skin and the muscle layer.

With manual lymph drainage, it is even possible to change the route of lymph, which is important when a patient has had surgery or is undergoing cancer treatment. The lymphedema therapist can move the lymph away from non-functioning nodes to allow drainage through the other size of the body.

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